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This article was originally published in issue #20
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A US-made pro-quality acoustic guitar at a very affordable price? That sounds like a Larrivée. Rick Graham checks out a limited edition from the tonewood master's Californian factory.
This is the second Larrivée acoustic that we've reviewed in GI - the first being in issue 8. Back then we were enormously impressed to find a North American made guitar selling for the sort of money you can be asked for Korean (and even one or two Chinese) produced models. Of course, in theory, there's no real reason why a Korean made guitar shouldn't be as good, or even as expensive, as a US-produced one, but that's the sort of price differential we've come to expect, so Larrivée's keen pricing on its Canadian and US produced instruments always comes as a bit of a shock. - which was certainly true in the case of the limited edition Peruvian Walnut dreadnought we are looking at in this review.
Founded way back in 1967 by the Canadian luthier Jean Larrivée, the company has built a solid reputation as a high quality acoustic guitar manufacturer with an impressive line of models,
including both steel string and nylon strung classical guitars. The company's headquarters was originally in Toronto, Canada however in 1982, it relocated to Vancouver. In 2001, a second factory was opened in California and it was here that our review sample was built.
The Larrivée D-03 is a dreadnought style guitar that sits in the company's 03 series but in this particular case is part of limited run. A standard Larrivée D-03 would have a conventional solid mahogany back and sides but this limited edition version has a Peruvian walnut back and sides, made possible by a supply of this luxurious tonewood located by Jean Larrivée personally. It's worth noting that Larrivée is internationally regarded as an expert in tonewoods, with a reputation for finding unique sources, so when a chance like this comes up it's worth paying special attention.
The rest of the D-03's specifications are the same as for conventional 03 series models, but even then - just look at what you are getting for your money! The top is a piece of fine looking Canadian Sitka spruce, the neck is a single piece of mahogany and it even has an African ebony fretboard and bridge. The guitar is beautifully bound using Canadian maple and it is worth noting how superbly the binding has been done.
The neck joint is a traditional glued, dovetail type and, again, the workmanship here is very impressive indeed. The fretboard has been bound to the neck with a very nice Ivoroid binding with exactly the same attention to detail. You'll find Larrivée machine heads at the headstock end of the instrument, which features a rounded Larrivée design and Larrivée logo along the top. Finishing touches include Herringbone Inlaid Rosette, an exclusive bevelled Tortis pickguard and microdot fretboard markers.
Right from the outset, the D-03 proved itself to be a guitar capable of producing tones that you'd normally expect to hear from guitars costing a great deal more. Bear in mind that there are several models on offer and that the smallest in the range, a lovely looking Parlour sized version, sells in the UK for a recommended £899 and has a MAP of US $1,125, so you can see that we are talking about pretty impressive value here.
Strummed chords always sounded full and punchy with a decent amount of volume available. It also responded to my playing dynamics very well indeed. Playing through a scale from low to high
demonstrated that the D-03 is a beautifully balanced instrument with basses and trebles working, as they should, in perfect harmony. Fingerpicked arpeggios were equally impressive sounding
and the resulting tone was very inspiring to work with. How much was down to the use of the gorgeous-looking Peruvian walnut? It's hard to say, because we didn't have a mahogany version to try it against. Larrivée suggests the sound is closer to that of koa, with a well balanced, warm tone. I'd have to say that matches the sound ours produced, which you can hear, of course, on the video. Incidentally, the playability was also fantastic and I didn't have to work very hard, even when negotiating more technically demanding playing styles, particularly those more associated with electric guitar technique.
It very hard not to be impressed with the Larrivée D-03. It is a very well built instrument capable of producing tones that would point to a far higher price tag than the one you'll find attached to it.
The build quality is exceptionally good with a great attention to detail and the playability is also very good indeed. This is an all solid wood guitar so should improve with age and is, quite simply, a very good guitar at an exceptional price - so much so that we have awarded it an almost unprecedented four and three quarter stars.